43 minutes | Feb 20, 2018

EP 15: Driven by Data — Leveraging Data to Drive Business Change with Kalpana Chandrasekhar of Hotel Tonight

I’ve got a special guest with me tonight: Kalpana Chandrasekhar, the VP of Customer Experience at Hotel Tonight, my favorite travel app! Hotel Tonight is an app that started off allowing customers to make last-minute, night-of booking for hotels with guaranteed low rates, but today has grown to allow for bookings up to 100 days in advance. Kalpana herself is not a traditional customer experience leader. Prior to joining Hotel Tonight, she was with American Express and SurveyMonkey in different operational functions, with more of a data-driven and analytical approach. Her current role at Hotel Tonight combines her interest in focusing on customer experience, metrics, and people management to help customers have the best possible hotel experience.   Kalpana and I discuss a wide array of topics, such as creating attention for the customer experience among the rest of the team and using data and metrics to back up her hypotheses and drive product change within the company. Kalpana also has some great tips on getting the whole company rallied around customer support, so be sure to look out for those. Tune in to this episode to also listen to Kalpana’s insights on what it takes to lead a team effectively!   Key Takeaways: [:26] Jaspar introduces his guest for this episode — Kalpana Chandrasekhar. [2:54] What is Hotel Tonight? It's a mobile app that’s focused on connecting customers with great hotel rooms, with special attention to the last-minute space. [4:27] Kalpana runs Customer Experience at Hotel Tonight. What does her role comprise? Her teams support customers through their Hotel Tonight experience, and deal with a certain portion of inquiries from hotels, via multiple mediums of communication. [5:36] Hotel Tonight also has an in-app messaging program that rewards loyal customers by helping them have the best possible hotel experience by connecting them with a dedicated customer service pro who can help with anything. [7:16] Kalpana and Jaspar discuss the possibility of shifting more customer support channels to text-based, in-app services and this is on the cards for 2018. [8:19] What was Kalpana doing before Hotel Tonight? Kalpana talks about her career experiences at American Express and Survey Monkey, which allowed her to get interested in the customer experience space and gave her insights into metrics, people management, and team management. [11:40] Not having the experience of dealing with customers directly, what was the biggest challenge Kalpana faced in her transition to her position at Hotel Tonight? In the early stages, there was a need to catch up on being able to identify what benchmarks are relevant, and having the data to back that up. Conversations with other CX and operations leaders really helped Kalpana to overcome those challenges. [14:25] What advantages does Kalpana bring to the table, not having the same experience or preconceived notions about how customer support should be run? Being able to question why things were done the way they were and bringing a fresh perspective. [15:33] How does Kalpana leverage data to drive business change? Data and metrics play a crucial role in how Kalpana manages her team, and also gives her credibility when it comes to discussing business change. [18:07] What are some of the pitfalls of relying on data? Analysis paralysis is a real thing — remember to check yourself to avoid that situation. It is possible to make good decisions based on imperfect data — just be aware of when to be confident and when to question the data and dig in more. [20:26] How does Kalpana incorporate her team’s priorities and the voice of the customer into driving change among the executive team? Proactively recording data and information from customers has provided Kalpana and her team with a basis to build future recommendations. [22:12] How does Kalpana ensure the voice of the customer is being heard by the rest of the executive team? Call-listening sessions help the executive team as well as employees across the organization to hear exactly what customers and hotels have to say and how the customer support team responds and provide feedback to the CX team as well as about the product. [26:44] Kalpana highlights the importance and benefit of surveying your own team. Both general feedback surveys and targeted surveys can be useful in gathering information and generating new ideas to improve customer experience. Kalpana shares an example of a product change that came about as a result of this and how having the data and metrics as evidence really helped to push through the change. [33:35] How do team members get recognition for their contributions in bringing about product change, or building new products? Kalpana augments the company’s recognition program with super-public recognition to celebrate cross-functional collaboration. [36:01] How does Kalpana approach data with an open mind? Kalpana’s approach is to have a point of view but also to recognize the numbers for what they are when they validate or invalidate certain hypotheses and work from there. [37:47] What will the Hotel Tonight customer experience look like in 2020? Kalpana hopes to be still helping customers but also that the areas of friction for customers have been reduced. Additionally, she hopes for a move into more chat-based support. [39:02] What is a lesson Kalpana has learned that she wishes she had known when she first started in her position? It’s important to be really even, calm, and patient as a leader, and she has taken steps to ensure that is her persona at work. [40:22] What are some of the challenges of managing a team that is entirely virtual? Kalpana shares how her team has proactively managed to gain additional perspectives from other team members. Making the time and space for people to chat informally has been key to bringing her team together and creating a positive work culture. [42:14] Check out the Hotel Tonight app, and connect with Kalpana via email or Twitter!   Resources Mentioned in This Episode: TaskUs Podcast Hotel Tonight Hotel Tonight on the iTunes App Store Hotel Tonight on the Google Play Store Email Kalpana Chandrasekhar Kalpana Chandrasekhar on Twitter Slack   Tweetables: “Hotel Tonight is a mobile app that’s focused on connecting customers with great hotel rooms.”   “Essentially, Customer Experience represents all the customer support that we do for the company.”   “The in-the-moment service is really important for a lot of hospitality and travel-related issues or concerns.”   “Experience allows you to have the confidence behind what you’re trying to do or say to someone else.”   “You need to make sure that the value you’re able to drive is correlated to how much time you spend [getting] that data.”   “Quotes from customers are very powerful, because ... it serves to bring more empathy.”   “It’s important to be really even, calm, and patient as a leader.”
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